Something weird happen on last night’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I don’t mean the guy that went all Memento on his own body with alien markings. No, I’m referring to that scene where Skye tells Mac the intention of the GH formula, that it was meant to resurrect fallen Avengers, and Mac replies, “You mean Captain America, Iron Man, those Avengers?” No, she meant Steed and Peel. But kidding aside, what surprised me about that moment was how organic it was, it didn’t feel like it was being forced to remind the audience that Agents and Avengers were part of the same universe. Making Easter eggs go down as smooth as 12-year-old whiskey has rarely been a problem for Arrow, and tonight’s entry “Guilty” proves it again revealing Ted Grant’s back story.
For the uninitiated (read: non-comic book nerds), Ted Grant in the comics is Wildcat, a crimefighter and one of the members of the Golden Age super-team the Justice Society of America. Grant, in the comics, has some super-powers including, as his name implies, nine lives, but of course Arrow‘s version of Grant (played by J.R. Ramirez) is powerless even though he’s still a talented and accomplished fighter. But, to the surprise and delight of fanboys everywhere, we do learn this week that Grant once wore a mask. Like the Arrow himself, Grant saw a city being savaged by it’s own injustice and put on a mask to do something about it. Unlike the Arrow though, he stuck to the Glades and was not flashy enough to get any press.
There was a distinct smell of Smallville coming off this revelation. In the young Superman series’ ninth season we meet the survivors of the Justice Society, characters like Starman, Doctor Fate and Hawkman. They were a super super-team with costumes and all, and yet there was a collective amnesia that befell the Metropolis population because no one seemed to remember that time a guy with wings and a big ole mace flew out of the sky to save people and beat up bad guys. At least the Arrow explanation is easier to buy. So there was a guy in a mask that beat up drug dealers and gangbangers with brass knuckles. Big whoop! Who gives a bibble? Gabba gabba hey!
Grant’s past comes back to haunt when a gang member is found dead in the Wildcat gym by Oliver. That’s all the Arrow needs to be convinced of Grant’s guilt, but Laurel was training with him and then protein-loading on Korean tacos when the guy was being killed. Oliver’s not quite ready to give up on his prime suspect, and in following Grant he learns of the boxer’s past as Starling City’s first vigilante avenger… That we know of. At Wildcat’s hideout though there’s another body with the same message, “Guilty.” Clearly someone thinks Grant is guilty of something, and it’s someone that knows about his past as a street fighting man. As Oliver knows, sometimes vigilantes don’t have the best luck with finding a suitable confidant.
Let’s pause here for three words: Boxing Glove Arrow! Kudos to the Arrow crew for finally making this a reality in a grounded way that’s true to the series, but is also true to the occasional, and occasionally legendary, silliness of the comic. It was a quick moment, and it was kind of over before it happened, but seeing Oliver slyly jab his arrow into a boxing glove and letting it fly off the bow must have been one of the greatest comic book moments on TV ever. That is all.
Back to the story, and we eventually learn that the real guilty party is Grant’s old sidekick Isaac Stanzler, who once went rogue and killed a drug dealer, which convinced Grant that it was time to get out of the vigilante business. Stanzler was told to leave town, but the gangs caught up with him and tortured him, possibly driving him further off the deep end. To Stanzler’s point of view, Grant turned him into a weapon and then abandoned him when things got too tough.
Coincidentally, Stanzler’s fellow superhero sidekick Roy Harper was also dealing with abandonment issues, the fear of being cast out of the Arrow Cave for possibly having killed Black Canary. Credit to Roy for coming clean, first to Felicity and then to the whole group, including Laurel, but when Roy started to become way too confessional it seemed somewhat suspicious that he was a legitimate suspect in the murder of Sara Lance. With Oliver’s help, Roy came to realize there was some transference at play, Roy’s dreams were trying to tell him that he murdered a cop while high on Mirakuru. Granted, it wasn’t a friend and costumed colleague, but Roy’s still got some issues to deal with killing an innocent police man and all.
It seems that Arrow is becoming a bit preoccupied with the personal cost of superheroics this season, even looking back to the season premiere and Count Vertigo 2.0, who seemed obsessed with the idea that he could be a better version the original crook of the same name. The theme is laid on rather thick this week with Stanzler telling Roy that he’s nothing more than a weapon being used by his mentor, one that will be cast off when he’s no longer of use. Laurel comes to the realization this week that she wants to get justice outside of the courtroom, a side effect of, though not technically connected to, her sister’s death. Looking back to this episode in the future we will see it as the point that Laurel decided to become Black Canary, it’s no longer a matter of destiny, but a matter of character development.
Escalation, as Jim Gordon put it in Batman Begins, continues to push the greater theme of consequences in next week’s Arrow, which gets teased in this week’s final moments. Carrie Cutter, AKA: Cupid, an obsessed fan of the Arrow appears and takes out Stanzler with her own bow and arrow. If this keeps up, people in Starling City are going to be calling for bow and arrow control, but the implications for the titular hero are clear: if you lead by example, the wrong people are going to get the right idea. Or is that the right people are going to get the wrong idea? Tough to say. Green Arrow’s built a good team, but even those on the inside aren’t immune to the desire to go their own way. Laurel is now explicitly training to fill her sister’s boots despite a) Oliver not wanting her to generally, and b) not wanting her to learn under Ted Grant specifically. That’s two strikes, Laurel.
Interesting that like last week’s entry, the plot doesn’t address the ongoing machinations of Malcolm Merlyn or Ra’s al Ghul, but unlike “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak,” this episode had weight and consequence for our hero characters and their development this season. Oliver can control his team, but he can’t control a city full of people that see the work of the Arrow and it fills a hole inside of them, even if that person with a hole is someone close to him. Can Laurel prove herself despite no one wanting her to put on a mask and fight the bad guys? Can Roy cope with what he’s done? Can Diggle get a better disguise? Stay tuned for more adventures from Starling City – Same Arrow time, same Arrow station.